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​Environmentalists move the goalposts on radioactive waste

by Rob Port | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Say Anything | December 17th, 2014

Very often I get the feeling that environmental groups care far less about the environment than they do about advancing certain political agendas. Case in point, the battle over NORM (or naturally occurring radioactive material) which is a byproduct of oil development in North Dakota.

Calling anything “radioactive” makes it sound really scary, but the waste produced in North Dakota’s oil fields (mostly consisting of filter socks) is relatively benign.

But that’s not to say it’s completely safe. It’s not.

Unfortunately, over the past year or so, the state has had some problems with illegal dumping of filter socks, which have a low-grade of radioactivity about them after being used in drilling operations. This irresponsible disposal of hazardous material made headlines, as well it should have. An abandoned building near Noonan, N.D., was found stuffed with illegally dumped and radioactive filter socks. Trailers carrying radioactive filter socks were found parked right out in the open in Watford City.

More than a nuisance or a mere eyesore, this dumping put the public at risk and prompted calls for action from environmental groups such as the left-wing Dakota Resource Council and the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, which is headed by Darrell Dorgan, brother to former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan.

The state’s leadership, claims of being too in-the-pocket for “big oil” to the contrary, got busy to fix the problem.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission responded by mandating all drilling sites have disposal containers for radioactive material serviced by licensed waste management contractors. The state’s inspectors are ensuring that these containers are being utilized properly.

To my knowledge, there hasn’t been an incident of illegal dumping of radioactive material since this rule was put in place.

The other step state leaders want to take is easing restrictions on legally disposing radioactive material in the state.

Currently our laws do not allow the disposal of any material radioactive beyond give picocuries, which is absurdly low (Jay Almlie, Senior Research Manager at the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, has pointed out that your home’s granite countertops may actually be more radioactive than that).

The state would like to raise that limit to 50 picocuries, which is higher than the 30 picocuries limit in Montana and Minnesota but much lower than the limits in Colorado (2,000), Idaho (1,500) and Utah and Washington (10,000).

This makes sense. If this material is going to be produced in North Dakota there should be a method by which it can be disposed of safely in North Dakota. The fact that there is no legal way to dispose of it here, other than shipping it out of state, likely contributed to the original dumping problem.

But this is the moment when the environmental zealots, who seem more interested in stopping fossil fuel energy development than prudent regulation, move the goalposts.

“What the health department wants to do is allow the dumping of radioactive waste in North Dakota that’s tenfold higher what you get hit with at the dentist’s office, and not require the lead apron,” Darrell Dorgan, brother to former Senator Byron Dorgan and head of something called the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, told Fargo Forum reporter Mike Nowtazki.

“They are unable to track waste now. I guess I don’t see how they can do it at a tenfold level,” Theodora Bird Bear of the left-wing Dakota Resource Center said.

In the minds of these activists, we shouldn’t respond to illegal dumping of radioactive materials by facilitating safe, legal disposal. Because mistakes have been made in the past, we shouldn’t try to do better in the future.

Because, let’s face it, safety isn’t their goal. Destroying fossil fuel energy development is. Which is exactly why we ought not be paying attention to them.

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